Lewis Hamilton, amid a season of disappointment so far with Mercedes way off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, is enduring one of the toughest moments of his career, of that there is no doubt.
With the Abu Dhabi controversy still no doubt lingering in his mind, onlookers have been quick to jump to conclusions, with Sir Jackie Stewart urging the 37-year-old to retire.
Three-time world champion Stewart believes the time has come for Hamilton to stop the pain and pursue other interests – but what is the right route for the man himself? Sportsmail evaluates what’s at play and takes a look at both sides of the coin.
Lewis Hamilton is enduring one of the toughest moments of his career in this season so far
Sir Jackie Stewart believes the time has come for Hamilton to pursue other interests
HAMILTON SHOULD CALL IT A DAY – HE HAS NOTHING LEFT TO PROVE AND THE OPPOSITION IS ONLY GETTING STRONGER
By Kieran Lynch
Though Lewis Hamilton doesn’t need to retire from Formula One to ‘protect his legacy’ as Jackie Stewart claimed, there are strong arguments to say why the three-time world champion has a point about the Mercedes driver’s future.
Hamilton was cruelly denied his record-breaking eighth championship in Abu Dhabi last season and unless Mercedes make drastic improvements, there is a real possibility that he could go a season without a race win for the first time in his career.
The seven-time world champion has enjoyed a magnificent career in which he smashed all of the records, winning 103 races and taking pole position on just as many occasions.
There is a strong case he should still aim for one more championship, one he would deserve after coming so close to surpassing Michael Schumacher and moving out on his own in terms of drivers’ championships.
Hamilton was cruelly denied his record-breaking eighth championship in Abu Dhabi last year
However, there is no certainty that he will have a car again that can challenge for the championship, and after what he has accomplished in his career, he has nothing left to prove.
Eighth championship or not, he will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, driver of all time.
At the age of 37, he is approaching a stage of his career where there is always the strong possibility of natural decline.
Schumacher returned to the sport in 2010 at the age of 41 after two years away and was clearly nowhere near the same driver he was when he first left the sport at the same age Hamilton is today.
On the contrary, Fernando Alonso is still showing great speed at the age of 40, though this is masked by the uncertainty of how he would fare against the likes of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc in better machinery.
Hamilton is still trying to overtake Michael Schumacher’s seven World Championship titles
Alonso, one of the most gifted drivers of his generation, has had a career unfulfilled after racing about in machinery below his supreme talents – winning two championships, when his speed deserved more.
Hamilton meanwhile has accomplished more than he probably dreamt about, and won’t be excited by competing in the midfield.
The Brit’s drive is not the same as what it used to be, especially compared to some of his younger rivals and in a car competing for positions he’s not used to.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel explained it best, when he told reporters earlier this month: ‘When you get to know the sport in the way I have done, and Lewis has done, winning and being at the top is what you strive for.
‘Does it excite you to finish eighth, or 12th or 13th? No it doesn’t, when you know you have been first so many times – and in Lewis’ case more than any other guy. George (Russell) comes in. He spent three years at Williams suffering to death at the rear of the field, scoring the odd point, and then suddenly he is eighth or 12th and life for him is amazing.
‘Everybody is different, but you need to be fair from the outside and say, look, is Lewis naturally going to be as fired up about finishing eighth as George probably is? No, and I would be surprised if he was.’
Hamilton is coming up against a new generation of drivers like Verstappen, Leclerc and Russell who are hungry and determined for success, with their whole careers ahead of them and aspirations they have yet achieved.
Even if the Mercedes does improve, with those drivers mentioned continuing to improve and reaching the peak of their careers, Hamilton will find it tougher than ever to win another championship.
After years of dominating Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton now has a team-mate in Russell who is quick, hungry and will be determined to beat the legendary Brit in the same machinery.
And after the opening nine races, Russell is ahead of Hamilton in the championship, though the 37-year-old has had his share of bad luck in races this season.
Hamilton is behind team-mate George Russell by 34 points in the Championship standings
The 37-year-old struggled severely with back pain after a bumpy race in Azerbaijan
Instead of challenging for wins, the Brit has been getting battered and bruised in a bouncing Mercedes car which has struggled to get the best of the new regulations, as he and the rest of the team desperately try to close the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull.
After all he has accomplished, fighting around for best of the rest in a car which is challenging him physically like never before, is not something Hamilton needs to be doing.
Hamilton still has the speed as shown by his podium in Montreal and he doesn’t need to protect his legacy which is already cemented regardless of how long he continues.
But with nothing left to prove after a record-breaking career, his competition getting stronger and no certainties of another title challenge, Stewart might just have a point when he suggested this is the right time for Hamilton to call it a day.
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY AND BECOMING THE GREATEST IS STILL WHAT DRIVES HAMILTON
By Kieran Jackson
Start the car; it only took three months and nine races for the retirement bandwagon to start chugging. To think that in December, Hamilton was a lap away from becoming the Formula One GOAT and now, his future in the sport is a hot-topic week-in week-out.
Let’s analyse Jackie Stewart’s comments, bit-by-bit, because when you break it down, the proof is in the pudding.
‘It’s time for him to resign,’ the 83-year-old said, terminology-check pending. But let’s take that in its most literal since. Because why do most resignations occur? When said person is no longer up to the standards of the job.
Hamilton finished third in Canada to register only his second podium in nine races this season
The 37-year-old currently lies sixth in the Championship standings, with just two podiums, and is 34 points behind Mr Consistency himself, George Russell. Agreeably, it’s hardly the statistics of a seven-time world champion.
Yet in reality, driving a Mercedes car which is woefully underequipped to mount a title challenge in irrefutably stark contrast to the hybird era so far, Hamilton has actually driven superbly more often than not just to stay in touch.
An opening weekend podium in Bahrain was followed by an outlier in Saudi Arabia, where he failed to qualify from Q1 and finished a mere 10th.
Disappointments and a lack of fortune in Australia, Emilia Romagna and Miami – alongside a row over jewellery – saw a championship battle wither before it even begun. But since Barcelona – when he fought back from the back after a first-lag puncture to finish fifth – he has been near-imperious within the confines of an underperforming W13 car.
After being stuck behind Fernando Alonso in Monaco, he was Driver of the Day in Azerbaijan as he finished fourth despite severe back pain. He was back on the podium in Canada, too. Slowly but surely, signs of form are returning.
Stewart then referred to Hamilton’s other interests, such as ‘music, culture, clothing, the rag trade.’
It is a misconception to state at this point in his life that Hamilton’s primary focus lies away from racing. Yes, his other ventures are well documented but he has silenced critics in this field before, and will do again.
After Hamilton won in Singapore in 2018 following questions over his off-track lifestyle, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: ‘It’s six years I have heard ‘how can you allow Lewis to get off and fly around the world?’.
Stewart insists Hamilton should focus on other interests of his, such as clothing and fashion
‘You know what? He did it to his most extreme in the last 10 days, he loved it, he was in Shanghai on the catwalk, he was in New York a couple of days later. He came here, rock and roll, and blew everybody away.
‘Let’s just be non-judgmental and allow everybody to judge how they perform best. He knows best what’s good for him.’
While Hamilton is indeed an elder statesman of the sport now – with only ex team-mate Fernando Alonso older on the grid – his 15 years of experience and seven world titles illustrate that he is at a point of his life where finding the right balance is no longer a problem.
Crucially, Hamilton still enjoys the full backing and support of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff
The star from Stevenage has done nothing but overcome adversity throughout his life
He is motivated by greatness, by being top of the pile in all the categories. Stewart also said: ‘Lewis is in that group of the Ayrton Sennas and the Alain Prosts.’
Wrong. Hamilton is ahead of them. Juan Manuel Fangio’s six titles have also been passed. He is in the Michael Schumacher bracket and if it wasn’t for a flimsy (at best), interpretation of the rules in Abu Dhabi last year, the Brit would be out on his own.
Which brings us nicely on to Stewart’s last remark of note: ‘It’s wiser to stop than go through all the pain of not being able to do what you did before.’
Try telling that to the man who overcame racial abuse in his childhood to reach the pinnacle of motorsport. To the man whose ability at the wheel shows no signs of waning with time. To the man who is targeting a ninth British GP victory next week.
The star from Stevenage has done nothing but overcome adversity throughout his life. Frankly, the tepid start to 2022 is a mere drop in the ocean. Granted, sitting 98 points behind Championship leader Max Verstappen, a tilt at No 8 may not be possible this season.
But with a contract that does not expire until the end of next year, Hamilton will undoubtedly get another crack of the whip. And what better place to claw back that winning feeling then at home under the sun. Roll on Silverstone.